On July 4, 1776 the American Colonies declared their independence from the British Crown. Sometime in late August or early September King George received it. The Crown’s official response was dated, October 31, 1776 — Halloween. On the other hand, if you were watching television, you may have heard there was a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas before the police entered the building. If you watch such things on the internet, you could have eaten breakfast while watching a birdseye view of Russians dying last night as their personnel carrier was bombed. Our frame of reference has been grotesquely distorted.
The grief of mothers and fathers for their fourth-grader killed by a deranged teenager with a weapon of war he should never have had, is not your grief. I know I sound cruel and indifferent, but hear me out. It is not, literally and personally, your grief. If you have even an ounce of compassion, you do in fact feel empathy for those families, as well as for the Ukrainian grandmother whose house has been bombed and whose children are dead or off fighting the war. With even a teaspoon of compassion, your sympathy is aroused for the Russian parents who will receive word their son has died in a foreign war. But it is not your grief, not literally.
Grief is tricky. We all carry some. We hear people talk about getting closure on grief, or resolving grief, but that is not what actually happens. If we process our grief in healthy ways, what happens is that it becomes a shallow latent pool in which all our losses are collected. With the healing help of gratitude, that grief mellows into grateful memories and thanksgiving for what or who once graced our lives. If we simply stuff it down and do not process it, it festers and bubbles up with unfortunate impact upon our lives later.
In either case, there is a pool of collective grief and each new loss reverberates with all the previous ones. If we have processed our grief well, then we recognize our collective grief has been stimulated by the current loss. If our grief is largely unprocessed, every new loss is an explosive mixture with all previous grief regardless of the relative significance of the current loss.
The news is 24/7 and there isn’t much of it that stimulates our happiness, humor, or joy. With all the current shootings, battles in Ukraine, or even COVID losses, our compassion for those in pain can lead us to over-identify with the losses going on a thousand or five thousand miles away. They are not our losses, at least not personally. But if we are not wise about how we manage our intake of such news, they ignite the pool of grief that resides within us and we take them in as our grief too.
That is the point of this column: manage the intake of news. The cameras hover over shootings the way they obsess on scenes of hurricanes violently blowing earth and sea as the backdrop for reporters. Obsessive, twenty-four hour gratuitous violence, suffering, pain, and grief compelling our focus and attention. Don’t be sucked in. It distorts our perception of the world and of the social context of our own lives. Be informed, yes, but manage the intake of news.